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First Empress José Julio Sarria inducted into California Hall of Fame 

One of the most legendary iconic LGBTQ trailblazers and heroes, the first Empress of the Americas, José Julio Sarria, will be inducted into the prestigious California Hall of Fame as announced today by California Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Sarria died on August 19, 2013, at the age of 90, though there is some discrepancy in his actual birthdate.

Sarria, a proud Latino and World War II veteran, became the first openly gay candidate in 1961 to run for public office as a candidate for the San Francisco County Board of Supervisors, placing fifth among a field of 29 candidates. Sarria’s courageous run for public office put “Gay Power” on the political map and helped pave the way for over 600 elected LGBTQ officials now in public office.  

In 1965, Sarria was crowned “Absolute Empress 1 of San Francisco” and established the first Royal Court in North America. Now there are over 65 city court chapters in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. 

Seventeen years ago, Sarria crowned her heir and successor, long-time Latino/LGBTQ activist, San Diego County/City Commissioner Nicole Murray Ramirez, who 11 years ago officially nominated José Julio Sarria to be inducted in the California Hall of Fame on behalf of the International Imperial Court System. 

“José Julio Sarria was the Rosa Parks of the LGBTQ Civil Rights Movement,” said Ramirez, who is also Empress Nicole the Great, known as “Queen Mother 1 of the Americas.” 

“It is very symbolic of Gov. Newsom to name José into the California Hall of Fame during this time when drag queens/transgender people are under attack by the Radical Right Wing,” said Ramirez.  

Empress 1 José was a proud drag queen and, following his distinguished service in the U.S. Army and honorable discharge in 1947, he returned to his beloved San Francisco. He soon became the hostess of the infamous Black Cat bar, where he became known as the “Nightengale of Montgomery Street” and would end his campy live opera performances by singing “God Save Us Nelly Queens.” 

Ramirez and then-San Francisco Supervisor Bevan Dufty led the campaign that resulted in Sarria being the first openly gay man to have a street named after him by the City of San Francisco. He was also inducted into the National LGBTQ Wall of Fame located in the historic Stonewall Inn in New York City, as well as being honored as a historic figure on the Rainbow Honor Walk in the Castro District of San Francisco. 

“We are as always honored to support the Imperial Court and International Court Council, especially when we have an opportunity to honor our ancestors and trailblazers,” said Cathy Renna, communications director for the National LGBTQ Task Force. “From the iconic ‘Wall of Honor’ at the Stonewall Inn to celebrating the inclusion of José Julio Sarria to the Hall of Fame to collaborating on campaigns advocating for the inclusion of icons like Harvey Milk, Bayard Rustin, and Urvashi Vaid on U.S. postage stamps, we are proud partners in the work. And given the political climate we are living in today, the contributions and impact the drag community has had on our fight for liberation is more important than ever to recognize,” concluded Renna. 

The International Imperial Courts have had major success in their national letter-writing campaigns and lobbying that has resulted in a Harvey Milk U.S. postage stamp and the USNS Harvey Milk 

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